Would you like to see how our typical school day mornings go? I scamper behind my toddler son to brush his teeth, change out of his sleep-suit and diaper. Most days I win only the brushing round. He needs to be constantly reminded to finish his fruit and that goes ok as long as its bananas on offer. Then comes breakfast with milk… he wants to climb atop the window sill, run from room to room and even watch his favourite shows on YouTube. I have to be within his eyesight, so that means I cannot go have a shower or use the restroom.
And then comes his bath… I usually have to drag him into the bathroom or lure him with promises of treats or threats of no treats. Then comes the real fight.. dressing up. He doesn’t want to wear the colour of the day, or the fancy dress costume that the school has penciled in for the day. This is the last straw and usually ends up in tears, screams and on-the-floor tantrums. Between all this I usually find a moment to sneak away and pack his school snack and clean & fill his water sipper.
Knowing there was a problem
It was after one such day, that I dropped him to school and came back to my first bite of something solid for the day that I began to wonder, what was the whole point of this daily drama? Why was this drama happening in the first place? He loves going to school and usually asks me why I am back so early to pick him up. So school is not the issue. I realised that our mornings were just horrible because of lack of planning, and most importantly a constant desire to rush. And of course, dress up day…
Most often it was my desire to get him out of the house so that I could begin my race against the clock and utilise those 3 hours of him being away from me to the fullest extent possible. I had to shower, work, cook, clean up, throw in the laundry, shop for fresh produce and catch up with friends, family and my blog. So many things to do and the amount of time limited. No wonder I was always stressed and wanted to be super efficient. My morning routine is a mission not a fun way to start the day.
Most Mumbaikars will tell you life is all about rushing from place to place. Rushing to catch the bus which will take you to the train station and running across the platform to make it to the section where the ladies coach of the 7:53 am train will arrive. This kind of drill drives a state of eagerness and hurry in to you. Sometimes, even when you are catching the train on a Sunday to visit the art fest in town, you will still catch your feet sprinting on the empty steps of the train station. This desire to rush and run and be somewhere gets ingrained into your very DNA.
I last travelled by the trains in 2008 but the act of rushing every morning never left me.
The answer you seek finds you
And then parenting happened and with it the horrible mornings. When I realised there was a problem I began to see “Mindfulness” all around me. Bloggers were talking about it, moms were talking about it, celebrities, books … all seemed to be flashing signs at me at the same time. Mindfulness was calling me.
Being mindful is described as a “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” But how does this apply to Parenting? Does being a mindful person help you become a mindful parent? Possibly.. but not always.
Mindfulness is a lot to do with your own state of being. It is about the self. Applying it to the people in your environment, especially babies is a different chapter in the book of mindfulness.
Learning for me
How many times has it happened that you are playing blocks with your child, while your free hand holds the phone and you are checking your email or responding to someone’s messages on whatsapp? How many times have you reacted (badly) at something your child did and then spent the whole night (crying) thinking about how you overreacted? Do you also occasionally send off your child saying “not now, can’t you see I’m busy?” I do all of these things.
When I read and understood about Mindfulness, I realised that I was pushing certain expectations and behaviours on to my child. These were formed out of the experiences and life I had lived. He had no place in that. He was a child who was naturally mindful. Children do stop and linger at the sights and sounds the world has to offer. It is usually us the parents who tug at them and pull them from one experience, one place to another.
So yes mindful parenting would require that I be mindful as an individual first. When was the last time you stopped and smelled the roses? A great resource on Mindfulness is my friend and fellow #AtoZ blogger Vasantha. Her theme for the the #AtoZBlogging challenge is about Mindfulness for newbies. You can catch all her posts on this topic here.
But how can you practice mindful parenting?
Be present – the first and most important step to being a mindful parent to be present in moments you spend with your child. These could be the 30 minutes you spend with him when he returns from school or the bedtime story telling time at night. In these moments, strive to be 100% there. Of course no gadgets, no disturbances. But most importantly don’t let your mind wander to what you are going to make for dinner or if the bills have been paid this month. When these thoughts enter your mind, you will start stressing about them and this will reflect in the time you are spending with your special little one. However don’t beat yourself up for your wandering mind, gently pull it back to the moment.
Deal with stress mindfully – a big resource that mindfulness provides is how you handle stressful situations. It simply asks you to stop, pause and focus on your breathing (to put it very simply.) Adult lives are abundant in stress – the maid didnt turn up today, the WiFi is slow today, the worrisome state of the world we live in. Such stressors, even if they be minor, show up in our interactions with our children too. Give yourself time to pause and focus on your breathing. While this won’t drive away your stress, it will make you more mindful and more responsive to the stressor.
Accept that your child is his own unique person – Sometimes, rather unknowingly, we push our own unfinished desires, wishes and dreams on to our children. Most parents intend never to do this with their children, as has been done with ourselves. But then in practice something in our DNA stirs and we seem to be unconsciously steering them towards our goals. So mindful parenting is about accepting that your child is unique, has his own dreams and ambitions. You are placed here to help him grow wings to reach those. So if your child becomes an avid gamer, you should support them. Don’t deny them their dream. Let them go on www.unrankedsmurfs.com if that’s what they are in to, let them live their dream. Don’t forget to encourage them!
Recognition – Now this is not just about rewarding, praising or celebrating. The definition of recognition is strictly also when you identify or recognise something. Active recognition such as acknowledging and highlighting something a child is doing – “I see you are reading the book!” or “I saw that you put your toys away” work very well to let them know that there is an adult here who is “seeing” them. It also gives a sense of security that I am being looked out for. You may not have been physically present when the toys were put away, but it drives home a point that you, the parent, saw they did it.
Infuse play – Now this is a skill I learned from my husband. I am more of the rule book parent and he is the go with the flow parent. However one page I tore off from his book of parenting is how play can make everything fun for children and adults alike. Brushing teeth was crucial for babyT because he has a tendency to develop caries. While most of the brushing sessions with me were filled with tears and threats, the husband used brushing as a way in which they would together frighten away all the tooth monsters who lurked in the dark corners of his mouth. It got the job done in half the time and in a more pleasant manner. So brushing time is the time when we use the tooth monster story again and again.
Teach your child coping mechanisms – sometimes when my toddler son is getting too stressed or restless or throwing a tantrum, I encourage him to breathe loudly and as he does I caress his chest and back softly. He is a little too young to be practicing the breathing techniques of Mindfulness but this little breathing sessions works well to get some air into him and calm him down. Sometimes a big hug also works to calm those frazzled nerves.
A great resource on mindful parenting is this book by Shelja Sen. She talks about 5 Cs – Connect, Coaching, Care, Community and Commitment as ways to get mindful parenting right. Aptly titled “All you need is Love” it is a simple but effective read for mindfulness for young children to teenagers.
(This is an affiliate link for Amazon.com I will earn a teeny tiny fee if you purchase the book from this link. However this does not cost you anything extra.)
To conclude, parenting is hard. Most days end with sheer exhaustion and sometimes a lot of guilt about not being a good enough parent. Yet, there is no need to allow this feeling to drain us of the strength to fulfil this beautiful role along the journey of life. Parents and the relationships with their children can be made more meaningful through mindful parenting.